Credit Union Geek

Marketing, Strategy, and The Force by Joe Winn

Tag: understanding (page 1 of 2)

Disclosures everywhere! …except for there.

Originally published on CUInsight.com

You’re all about openness.  Your new branch design includes sweeping halls, natural lighting, and big windows to provide a welcoming atmosphere.  That snazzy new website encourages whitespace with at-a-glance information on your latest promotions.  Of course, your staff are available to answer any questions members might have, as well as help them create a brighter financial future.

Then there’s your legal team.  An open field isn’t clear enough for them.  And that’s ok, because having an examiner woefully shaking their head is not your idea of a great day.  The lawyers want disclosures on top of disclosures, with a healthy dose of clarity, just in case something could be misinterpreted.

I’ve written about these concepts in previous posts.  Remember that “speed bump”, or website exit warning?  You don’t need it, never did, yet I still encounter them on a regular basis.  It’s tough when your in-house counsel says, “yes we do.”  If it’s between listening to me or them, I’d choose your person.  Clarity on your offerings and operations is essential as well.  We as an industry have a hard enough time getting members to even understand what a credit union is.  Don’t need them confused about what theirs can offer.

Which brings us to member understanding in the face of marketing and legal, combined.

I follow a large credit union on Twitter which embraces the idea of no fees and free accounts.  It’s a main part of their marketing.  While I’m more about finding unique ways to attract members, do what works for you.  “Free everything!” feels a bit “me too” to this geek.  Anyway, this credit union tweeted an image of two wrestlers with the copy, “Stop wrestling with fees.”  It links to their Truly Free Checking details.  The page talks about how awesome the account is and why you should just apply already! (Not quite, but that’s the idea.)  This is what appears when you click the Fees and Terms tab.

“This account doesn’t have any fees tied to a minimum balance requirement.”  And that’s it.  So there’s really no fees at all?  This is amazing!  What a super account!  Oh, wait, “…tied to a minimum balance requirement.”  This reminds me of the phone call with someone which goes, “I hope you’re enjoying your vacation!  I checked in on your house and the garage door totally looks great.”  And?

The account page has no link to the full list of fees (there aren’t any, remember?) or terms.  I dug around on the website and, after more searching than you’d expect, found a Fees page.  Unsurprisingly, it contains the standard laundry list of fees for all the items you’d expect, from check reorders to overdraft.  I’m not putting down the account.  It’s your run-of-the-mill $0 minimum balance free checking account.  Which is fine for many people.  But…

What would legal have to say?  Do you think they saw this page?  I clicked around and, yes, they do feature speed bumps on links to 3rd party partners (partners, because it’s a two-way contractual relationship).  So legal mandated this unnecessary feature, but let a checking account description get away with no disclosure of any fees or terms?

On top of the legal issue, this credit union is only setting themselves up for disappointed members.  Consider the member who wants a no-fee account.  This looks perfect, and if you’re not reading carefully, that one line sure sounds like there are no fees at all.  Imagine their frustration when they get hit with fees for checks, an accidental overdraft, or any number of other actions.

We all want to help members become more financially secure and knowledgable.  So let’s make sure our efforts don’t conflict this goal.

Image credit: Me, showing my mom demonstrate openness and clarity in Rocky Mountain National Park.

What’s Obvious for You…

…might be an unknown for others. Which isn’t so much an issue until you, oh yes, we’re going there…assume. Consider a meeting with a vendor or a prospect (sometimes you’re the salesperson, others, you’re the one buying), and they keep bringing up a term. It sounds important, and perhaps even central to their thesis, but it is never explained. Let’s be honest, you have no idea what they are talking about.

We’ve all been in that situation, where everyone seems to know something we don’t. How does that make you feel?

A natural response is, “why don’t you just ask?” And let others see your weakness? Never!

The more common reaction is to push away what makes you feel “not ok”. In this case, it would be the other party in the meeting. As you can imagine, chasing out potential partners isn’t a great way to expand, so how do we find a happy medium?

Let’s step into a new pair of shoes, this time, those of that person who made you feel inferior. Can we agree they were not aiming to insult you or give you overt rationale to send you away? They made a mistake; they assumed, and you know what happens when we assume. (If you see what I did there, fantastic, if not, that’s ok: I made an assumption of you knowing the oft-repeated line regarding assuming, “you make an ‘a**’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’!” This would be a great example of what you want to avoid.)

Back to the meeting. How could it have been handled to keep everyone “ok”? For starters, ensure everyone is on the same page, on everything. It is possible you have heard advice regarding use of industry jargon. Short answer? It’s all correct. A credit union which does no indirect lending may not know how the process works, what the terminology is with the dealers, or even the competition. Beginning a discussion on dealer fees, then referencing DealerTrack (a principal source dealers use to search loan options), may put the unknowing CU representative in an uncomfortable spot. Bottom line: If a random person doesn’t understand you, the person sitting across the desk or on the other end of the phone may not either.

Why am I writing a post on something which, in hindsight, seems so obvious? Because we did it, too. During a meeting with one of our credit union clients, we began a discussion of one of our services, mentioning another place members can get a loan. However, this alternative is a last-resort option, known for very high rates and challenging terms (there’s no question the credit union was a far better choice). We presented it directly, “as a credit union, you are in a perfect position to serve these members and truly improve their lives.” Sales strategies aside, this is entirely accurate. However, the credit union executive was not familiar with this other loan source, and, likely not wishing to feel silly, didn’t ask. Nor did we explain. It created a situation where they wanted to make any excuse to say no because it was uncomfortable.

In that scenario, it was our failure. We assumed, and were wrong. In the future, we are going to address these potential issues up-front. We will ask if they are familiar with any terminology before discussing. We might say, “I don’t suppose you are familiar with so-and-so products?” If they respond, “yes, we are”, then great, we move forward. But it gives them a moment to say, without showing any weakness, “actually, no, would you mind discussing that further?”

We’re all on the same page, and suddenly, what’s obvious for you…

…is obvious to them, too.

Kids Understand the Darnedest Things

We’re back on topic, with reading levels. Last time, we discussed what can be gained by writing in a fashion that everyone can understand (hint: a lot). Today, we are going to learn how to measure our writing, at what level we should aim, and why even bother.

How to Measure?

There are many reading measurements, and each gives a fixed numeric value. With complex names such as “Raygor Estimate Graph, Flesch Reading Ease, and Spache Formula,” they sound pretty daunting. We’re not going to worry about their details, just that they exist and can help us determine if others can understand what is written. So what do they measure? Each is different, but a combination of word length, syllables, and words per sentence is common.

What Level?

This may surprise you, but the average American understands what they read best when it is a 7-8th grade reading level. Please realize, the grade level does not reflect intelligence, rather, the degree of complexity (or lack thereof) to ensure your writing is understood. After I complete a blog post, I scan it with reading level calculators to learn how close to my goal it is. That doesn’t mean my content is basic, rather, I write to be understood, not go over a reader’s head. Feel free to check any of this blog’s previous entries in one of the calculators. Then, take a look at the level popular news sources and books are written. Time aims for 9th grade. The New York Times, 10th. John Grisham, Stephen King, Tom Clancy, and many other bestsellers write at a 7th grade reading level.

Why Bother?

Alongside the rapid development and implementation of newly-fostered ideas, which serve to educate and inform a willing industry populace, technology has offered a template with which we can communicate our desires, strategies, and results so as to generate a loftier goal for all.

That sentence is why. Because saying something in long statements, with big words, designed to make you sound “smart”, helps no one. Here’s that same sentence, brought down to Earth:

We all have great ideas, and technology has made sharing them with others so much easier. Our industry is better due to your contribution.

Which was easier to understand?

  • The grade level estimate of the first sentence is a whopping 23, which can be interpreted as graduate level content. Its reading ease, where higher is better, and 60+ is a good aim, scored 8.4.
  • The modified segment offered a grade level of 7.8 and a reading ease of 60.7. It’s not just you, the second selection is mathematically simpler to comprehend.

Keep this in mind when you’re drafting new content for your website, newsletters, and mailed content. If your writing is too complex, it’s as if you are wasting half (or more) of your mailings. I’d encourage you to learn about and embrace reading level calculators, then go forth and compose!

For reference, this post has a Flesch Reading Ease (higher is better) of 72.4 and is written at an average grade level of 7.6.

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